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Yichud, Secluded from Harold Green

Photo courtesy of Convergence Theatre.

A few weeks back, Convergence Theatre artistic directors Aaron Willis and Julie Tepperman were on the verge of getting locked into creative isolation. The Harold Green Jewish Theatre had pulled funding from Convergence’s February production of their 2009 Next Stage hit Yichud (Seclusion) (the title refers to the period during a Jewish wedding when the bride and groom are shut in a room on their own—think seven minutes in Orthodox heaven), a move made after a sponsor withdrew over “concerns that the content might be misinterpreted.” Willis and Tepperman heard rumours of board-member intervention. But whatever the real reason—our request for an interview with someone from Harold Green was not returned—this real-life husband and wife quickly mustered enough chutzpah to get themselves just a few bucks shy of a happy ending for their onstage newlyweds. Now they just need to salvage one last week of rehearsal.
Thanks to a strong initial push by Tepperman, Willis, and Theatre Passe Muraille’s artistic director, Andy McKim, Convergence was able to restore about forty thousand of the lost fifty thousand dollars in just a few days, guaranteeing that the show would go up. But considering that the play has been almost completely rewritten since it was last performed and includes a sizable chorus, live Klezmer band, and lots of audience mingling, the $9,467 needed for extra days of practice is essential. Although they still haven’t quite met their fundraising goals, an email campaign launched December 9 has got them within reach. “It’s been extraordinary,” says Tepperman. “People just started clicking on our link. By the next day we already had two thousand dollars. But the amount doesn’t really matter. In this case, literally every penny makes a difference.”
So is this an unfortunate but anomalous incident, or further proof of a local trend in which Jewish plays have their funds compromised? Willis and Tepperman lean toward the former. “I think this is really unusual as far as pulling funding goes,” says Willis. “When we’ve told peers about it, everyone has been aghast. And a lot of the support we’ve had is from people who’ve made donations because they disagree with what’s happened. If anything, I think Toronto is more fertile ground than ever.” Still, with arts budgets slashed to a pittance, their story does raise questions as to whether this sort of yes-we’ll-finance-you-wait-just-kidding approach to funding not-for-profit arts groups could become more of a standard in a time when purse strings are tighter and purses are fewer.
Despite the drama, Willis and Tepperman stress a desire to avoid sensationalism, especially since the subject matter is, apparently, not that racy. “People will come and be like, ‘What was all the fuss about?’” says Willis. “Although the play has an Orthodox Jewish setting, the themes are really universal. It’s about honouring and respecting the people in your family, and striving for intimacy. It’s through an Orthodox Jewish lens, but the specificity of that world is not exclusive.”
Yichud (Seclusion) runs February 10–27. Tickets can be purchased at Theatre Passe Muraille’s website, and donations can be made to “Help Convergence Theatre!” at The Arts Box Office.


  • http://undefined Disparishun

    Surely it is not necessary to sneer at Jewish traditions in order to talk about them. Yichud is indeed, among other things, the name for a basic component of the Jewish wedding ceremony. I do not know what “seven minutes in Orthodox heaven” is supposed to mean. To the extent it implies that the husband and wife are otherwise not supposed to be alone together it is, of course, misleading. More importantly, the yichud portion of the ceremony is a serious and beautiful tradition which enables the newly-weds private time in the midst of a very public ceremony, allows them to eat for the first time that day, and is generally laden with both symbolic meaning and practical purpose.
    As a separate matter, the post’s editorial spin — “further proof of a local trend in which Jewish plays have their funds compromised” — is somewhat strange, since no prior “proof” of other “plays” is presented. The link is to a visual art exhibition.

  • http://undefined tommy

    The link is to a NOW magazine article. For more information about Jewish plays coming under fire, research Caryl Churchill’s “Seven Jewish Children”.
    And go see “Yichud”, I think you’d like it.

  • http://undefined Disparishun

    1. This is a strange assertion. Caryl Churchill’s “Seven Jewish Children” cannot be part of “a local trend in which Jewish plays have their funds compromised”, since it is not a Jewish play and was not put on by a Jewish theatre company. The trend referred to in the posting above is simply invented.
    The link was to a NOW magazine article, certainly, but it is not one that cites any evidence at all to support this non-existent “trend”.
    2. Thank you for the invitation. If the play avoids sneering at Jewish traditions, then it will have surpassed Torontoist, at any rate. Are you involved with it?

  • http://undefined Disparishun

    Thinking about it more, in any case Caryl Churchill’s “Seven Jewish Children” did not have any funds compromised — so, in the event that you are seeking to stretch the post’s words to imply that the accused-but-evidence-free “local trend” attaches to plays about Jews, rather than plays by them, it is surely a counter-example. After all, I can think of no play about Jews that was more vigorously criticized. However, the play’s funds were not compromised.